Sports Law • Risk Management

KC Chiefs Linebacker Suicide Possibly Linked to Head Trauma

On the morning of December 1, 2012 Javon Belcher, a 25-year-old linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, fatally shot his girlfriend and mother of his three-month-old daughter at their private residence before taking his own life at the Chiefs’ team facility. Belcher was confronted by Chiefs’ general manager, Scott Pioli and head coach, Romeo Crennel, in the parking lot outside the team’s facilities and thanked them for all they had done for him and asked that they take care of his baby daughter, before Belcher turned the gun on himself. As reported by NY Daily News, the Chiefs organization never had any problems with Belcher and he was even part of the Male Athletes Against Violence initiative while playing football at the University of Maine. Although the couple had been undergoing couples therapy, there were never any signs that indicated and kind of violence in the domestic relationship.

Although there are sources that say that Belcher drank a lot, other critics have brought up the possibility of brain trauma as a cause for the change in behavior. A friend of Belcher’s told reporters that he had suffered short-term memory loss following the November 18th game against the Bengals, which make sense because Belcher did not play in the game the following week. Since 2011, six NFL players have killed themselves; two had definite signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease caused by repeated head trauma. It is unknown if continuous head trauma was the reason for the sudden change in attitude and the reason for Belcher and the other NFL players to take their own lives, but it is quite scary to think that this could happen as an effect from playing football. There has been a lot of effort to make the game safer and improve player safety regarding head trauma, but this is definitely a growing concern with the potential damaging health effects of those who play the game of football. Perhaps a more long-term assessment should be done to assess the stability and mental health of players who sustain concussions. A long-term assessment may help gage when it is safe for an athlete to return to play and whether or not rest is a viable option for the long-term health of these athletes.